Why Can't They Let Go of O.J.?

Karen Grigsby Bates is a regular contributor to this page

Five years, two trials and untold analyses later, it comes down to this: Some people still cannot let go.

O.J. Simpson has been tried and acquitted (criminal), tried and convicted (civil), his assets sold off to satisfy a court order to pay restitution to the families of the people for whose deaths, in the eyes of a civil trial jury, he was liable. But it isn't enough.

It definitely wasn't enough for the people who still make O.J. jokes and run O.J. cartoons. It wasn't enough for local talk-radio hosts, who still scream angrily whenever his name is mentioned in almost any context. And it wasn't enough for Bob Enyart, who spent $16,000 at a court-mandated auction of Simpson property and who then incinerated his purchases on the steps of the criminal courts building as a protest against the criminal court system that "is destroying justice before our very eyes."

I hope he feels better.

Enyart, a conservative Christian who hosts a Denver-based radio talk show, journeyed to Los Angeles and shelled out that phenomenal amount of money because he wanted people to know exactly how disgusted he is with the verdict rendered by the criminal jury in the Simpson trial. Enough with this jury stuff, he fumed, as he and a small group of supporters torched two signed football jerseys and dismantled a wood-and-parchment plaque before burning the paper and smashing the wood. They don't vote the right way anyway, so abolish the jury system in criminal trials. Toss reasonable doubt and replace it with reasonable evidence. I don't know which I found more disturbing, Enyart's willingness to spend $16,000 on what essentially amounted to a public tantrum, or the photo that accompanied it. He and his colleagues, all male, all white, all clean-shaven, are wearing a uniform of sorts: dark T-shirts with boldface print fictitiously advertising ShadowGov.com. (Enyart's was an acerbic reminder to onlookers that "Judge Rightly Is Not Some Guy's Name.") The composition of the group, its faux uniforms, the expressions on the members' faces, make a little alarm bell ring somewhere in the part of my brain that retains all those civics lessons from way back when.

Almost unbidden, other images push themselves to the fore: of books being burned in big heaps in prewar Germany, implacable faces staring with self-righteous satisfaction as the smoke goes up. Of crowds gathering in an open field to watch a lone body go up, up on a rope, to assuage their injured sense of justice--often before a trial even took place. Of hundreds of adults screaming and throwing things at black schoolchildren from Little Rock to Boston when they disagreed with court decisions to desegregate public schools.

It's an imperfect justice system, and it doesn't always work as we'd like it to or as it should. Many, many people would have preferred that O.J. Simpson be put away for good for two killings they're convinced he committed. But that's not how the jury saw it in this particular instance.

Simpson, his loopy grin and clueless comments notwithstanding, is living in his own kind of hell and will continue to do so until he draws his last breath and papers everywhere--including this one--lead his obituary not with his stunning athletic accomplishments but with the eternal taint of two deaths one jury thinks he had a hand in.

In the meanwhile, Enyart would better spend his disposable income on some action that would truly reform the courts in meaningful ways. He and the rest of us should just get over it. This is as punished as O.J. Simpson is going to get. Some people may not like that, but to autonomously decide that it hasn't been enough is to start down the route that ended up with a man being dragged alive until his flayed flesh fell off the bone in Jasper, Texas.

Is that really what we want? If it is, that says a lot less about Simpson than it does about us.

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